Two new pieces

Quick update about two non-newsletter pieces

Hello everyone (including a bevy of new email signups)—just a quick note to let you know about pieces of mine published in the last ~12 hours by Foreign Policy and The Washington Post.

In the Post, I discuss the Olympics and soft power—and why the latter concept is complicated nowadays:

There is a fuzzy link between podium position and success on the international stage. States care about Olympic prestige in part because their leaders believe that higher status will help them get their way in world politics. The Harvard professor Joseph Nye popularized an influential version of this concept, calling it “soft power.” Unlike hard power, such as wealth or military strength, soft power derives from “the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.”

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics, however, show that the relationship between what a country’s elites want from the Games and what their athletes are willing to provide is far from straightforward. The nature of power in international relations has more to do with setting the terms of debate rather than piling up gold medals — and sometimes that means a system that allows dominant competitors to withdraw can be more exemplary than one that forces them into the arena. 

In Foreign Policy, I add to the master’s degree discourse, offering basic statistics (did you know the number of humanities M.A.s is down?) and an argument about how we can break the grip of the MA-industrial complex:

[T]raditional programs like MFAs or master’s in history or political science have been displaced by narrower, sometimes absurdly practical degrees. Demand for these vocational M.A.s is surging. The fourth-quickest-growing degree, increasing more than fortyfold since 1970-1971, is in “Parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies,” a category that includes kinesiology and golf course management. The third-fastest-growing category is “Homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting,” which includes everything from classic criminal justice degrees to emergency management to cybersecurity degrees. And the fastest-growing programs, an increase of over 177 times compared to 1970 enrollment numbers (albeit to only 355 students), are in “Military technologies and applied sciences,” highly specialized degrees in subjects like command and control systems and operations, directed energy systems, and radar communications and systems technology.

Narrow doesn’t mean useless. Yet master’s programs’ turn toward narrower training raises the question of why students should bear the cost of their credentialing. Employers could easily, if not altogether cheaply, provide the necessary skill development for such narrow specializations. This would shift some of the costs back onto employers, but the trade-off would be that they could likely train workers to fit their needs better than general-purpose university programs. (Can you really learn how to run a golf course better by paying for lectures than by spending the same amount of time being paid to care for the greens?)